Will New Jersey 'Buy American' Bill Hurt Public-Sector Tech Efforts?

New Jersey may have dodged an IT procurement bullet, as technology items were exempted from a "buy American" measure

June 18--New Jersey may have dodged an IT procurement bullet last week, as technology items were exempted from a measure requiring public-sector agencies to "buy American." But the issue looks far from settled, as experts aren't convinced the new language is broad enough to protect IT interests in the state.

Senate Bill 1811, which mandates use of products made in the U.S. to fulfill public contracts, passed the New Jersey Senate on a 36-1 vote June 12. Before the vote, the bill was modified to exempt information and communications technology (ICT) that is "fully assembled" outside the U.S.

Industry representatives worried the measure still could be interpreted too narrowly, however, potentially causing IT costs to skyrocket for state agencies, local jurisdictions and public universities.

In an email to Government Technology, Russ Guarna, vice president for state and local government at TechAmerica, an industry lobbying group, said the "fully assembled" language in the exemption may be fine for items such as PCs and printers. But he said it remains to be seen how well the exemption applies to integrated technology solutions containing hardware, software and services.

Carol Henton, vice president of state, local and education for the Information Technology Industry Council, agreed that questions remain about the measure. Some technology companies are still unhappy with the amended bill language, she said, citing concerns from manufacturers about television displays used by hospitals. But overall, Henton was encouraged with the progress made for public-sector technology interests in the bill.

"In today's innovation economy, the ideas and know-how of American workers are the driving force behind some of the most advanced technologies in the [ICT] industry which are competing in the global marketplace with international supply lines, sources of production and consumers," Henton said. "We are heartened that New Jersey legislators understood this and worked to improve the bills to bring better focus on their broader concerns."

A similar IT exemption was inserted into Assembly Bill 3059, an identical measure circulating in the New Jersey Assembly.

Following its passage in the New Jersey Senate, S1811 was moved over to the State Assembly. It currently resides in the Assembly Appropriations Committee with A3059, where one final bill is likely to emerge for further consideration. At press time, no hearing on the bills had been scheduled.

Government Technology will continue to monitor any changes or clarifications made to the bills as they pertain to the technology exemption. The "Buy American" law still must get through the committee evaluation process before being voted on by the entire state Assembly. If it passes the Assembly, the legislation would become law if signed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Brian Heaton -- Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.

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